Federal judge rules Tennessee sex offender law punishes retroactively


A judge’s gavel is shown in a file photo. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that parts of Tennessee’s sex offender registration act should not be applied retroactively to two offenders who sued over the law.

Monday’s ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee was narrowly written to apply only to the two plaintiffs. But it could open the door to more lawsuits and a broader ruling in the future.

U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson found that parts of the law violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents people from being punished by a law passed after their crime was committed. In order to find a violation, Richardson had to determine that parts of the law were punitive. He analyzed the specific circumstances of the two plaintiffs, who are identified only as John Doe #1 and John Doe #2, and found that parts of the law did act as punishment in the cases of the two men.

According to the court, John Doe #1 was convicted in 1994 of two counts of attempted aggravated sexual battery, for which he received a sentence of five years’ probation. John Doe #2 was convicted in 2000 of three counts of sexual battery committed against a child 12 years or younger and was sentenced to six years’ probation.

Under the current law, both are required to register as sex offenders with the state. They also face restrictions on where they can live and work, and they must regularly report in person to law enforcement, among other things.

The plaintiffs claimed that the law’s restrictions have forced them to move out of their own homes and lose jobs and prevented them from spending time with their children and attending school events.

Richardson has yet to make a specific ruling as to which parts of the law should not apply to the two men. In his ruling, he asked the parties for more information on what they think should be the scope of the injunction. He added that he would rule later.

Richardson ruled in favor of the state on one issue. He said that a part of the act that requires offenders to provide law enforcement with information about their online activity was not, on its face, a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. However, Richardson noted that the law is “confusing and unclear regarding what is required of registrants.”

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